MALCS Institute Paper: The Case of the Second Chicana

This paper was written for and given at the 2011 MALCS Summer Institute held last weekend at Cal State LA. It was wonderful and energizing conference. I’m including some of the slides as images — we’ll see how that goes.

In the introduction to her anthology, Chicana Feminist Thought, Chicana sociologist Alma Garcia gives her criteria for the selection of writings:

the substance of a document;
the historical importance of a particular document; and
the historical importance of a particular writer.

I would further argue that writings coming from the underground presses and newspapers of political and cultural resistance movements — like the Chicano and feminist movements — can be said to gain intellectual capital by both the frequency of their publication (and re-publication) and the extent of their distribution.

On those terms Enriqueta Vásquez’s variously titled article can be counted as one of the most influential essays of the Chicano movement. Certainly it qualifies as one of the most widely read and republished Chicana-authored pieces, crossing and criss-crossing Chicano and feminist boundaries, including its publications in Sisterhood is Powerful and Liberation Now!.

On my first readings of Robin Morgan’s anthology I assumed that the single Chicana author included in Sisterhood Is Powerful was Enriqueta Vasquez. I believed that Vasquez’s piece stood alone in representing Chicana feminists, as if saying that Vasquez was the solitary Chicana feminist not only in the text, but perhaps also in the larger feminist community. Its inclusion in Sisterhood Is Powerful does not stand on its own, however, but the five-page article is powerfully mediated by Elizabeth Sutherland in a three-page introduction explaining the article’s context. An identical version of “The Mexican American Woman,” complete with the same introduction by Sutherland, appeared in the 1971 anthology Liberation Now! under the title “Colonized Women: The Chicana.” However, in the case of the version in Liberation Now! the article is indexed as being by Sutherland, with the Vasquez article appearing as though within it.

The inclusion of Sutherland’s introduction is significant and striking. Among the anthology’s sixty-nine articles, only the contribution by Vasquez merits an introduction by another author. The structure of the introduction is itself interesting. Elizabeth Sutherland, in the tradition of the slave narrative, appears to function as an Anglo authenticating feminist voice. As such, she seems to vouch for Vasquez’s inclusion in the text as a feminist, as if otherwise there would be some doubt about the article — or even about Vasquez herself belonging in this community of sisterhood. Sutherland explicitly calls on the — presumably white — readers to “listen for her [Vasquez’s] own voice, not merely for echoes of their own.” The assumption, based solely on her name and the fact that Sutherland does not identify herself as ‘of-color’ — that Sutherland herself is white is one that should be examined, but is one that readers (myself included) would be likely to make.

However, a careful reading of the contributors list at the anthology’s end gives more information, (re)naming and identifying the author as “Elizabeth Sutherland (Martínez),” giving a clue she may not be as Anglo as her name would make her seem, though again it would take both careful reading and some insider knowledge or research to decipher the clues. The (Martínez) addition is not included in either the table of contents or the article text. It can only be read by going to the “Contributors” biography section at the end of the anthology. There she is further identified as the editor of the New Mexican based Chicano movement newspaper El Grito Del Norte. Further research into El Grito — reveals that Sutherland to be the second Chicana contributor to Sisterhood Is Powerful, Elizabeth (Betita) Martínez. Martínez was the founding editor of El Grito where Vasquez wrote regular columns and where the article was originally published. The name “Elizabeth Sutherland” is Martínez’s Anglo pseudonym, one that, by 1969, she had employed for several years.

Betita Martinez - Photo by Margaret Randall

Sutherland’s curious mediation, and the editor’s feeling that the introduction should be — or needed to be — included would be interesting in its own right. However, it is all the more so when one realizes that “Elizabeth Sutherland” is not in fact an Anglo feminist, but Vasquez’s Chicana editor writing under her Anglo-assumed name. Read with this knowledge, Martínez becomes the second Chicana contributor to the anthology; one with an extensive publication history, both before and subsequent to this contribution, and one arguably far better known (to the east coast Left community) than Vasquez would have been.

Knowing Martínez’s Sutherland identity changes the reading of her introduction and raises the interesting question of whether Martínez as Sutherland is, in fact, “passing” for white in Sisterhood Is Powerful. Martínez at the time of the publication of Sisterhood Is Powerful had publications under her latina name. However, as “Elizabeth Sutherland,” she had a publication history dating back to the mid-1960s as the author of accounts of both her civil rights work in the American south for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and of visiting revolutionary Cuba. When writing for a late-1990s edited collection on leaders of second wave feminism, The Feminist Memoir Project, Martínez discussed her reasons for publishing under her Anglo pen name, explaining

[…] the early books on the Mississippi Summer Project and on revolutionary Cuba [were] published under the name of Elizabeth Sutherland because I thought it would have a more literary ring to it in the Eurocentric publishing world. Who would publish someone named Martínez then?

That Martínez knew (or felt) that this change in name was necessary in order to have her writing fairly evaluated and published in the early 1960s is a reflection of the time and her knowledge of reader / publisher expectations. Explained this way, her “passing” under the pen name of Sutherland in these early articles is more practically utilitarian than subversive.

However, Martínez’s use of her Sutherland name in the Sisterhood anthology to introduce Vásquez’s article seems different, more complex and, arguably, more subversive. Within the Sisterhood text, Elizabeth Sutherland’s introduction of Vásquez is unique: no other article in the anthology, including those by other women of color, either merit or would be seen to require an introduction, thus making Vásquez’s piece seem somehow more subversive and important. The construction of the Sutherland / Martínez introduction is revealing about the assumptions both of the reader and Martínez herself. Read without the knowledge of Sutherland being a pseudonym for Martínez, the introduction functions not unlike the nineteenth century white abolitionist — also frequently female — who introduced and vouched for the authenticity and veracity of the slave narratives. Sutherland seems to call on her fellow Anglo readers, whom she predicts will find Vásquez’s text “a shock, perhaps even a cop-out or ‘Tommish,’” telling them they should instead take Vásquez and what she has to say seriously. Seeming to identify as one of them, Sutherland asks these Anglo feminist readers to recognize that they, like most of the “militants in the Women’s Liberation Movement”

[…] are white, middle class in background and in the majority of the population. They have little gut understanding of the position of women as a colonized — not merely oppressed — group.

Having thus defined her readers, and made them assume the same about herself, Sutherland gives a brief sketch of the position of the colonized women. She traces the multiplicity of the Chicana position, with her subordination in her role as a woman of La Raza “overshadowed” by the common oppression of the male and female colonized. She also discusses the role culture may have in oppressing “the Chicana” as a woman, but balances that by pointing out how, at the same time the Chicano community protects and even liberates her. Sutherland writes, again seeming to locate herself among those she is calling on, stating that

[t]he middle class Anglo woman must beware of telling her black and brown sisters to throw off their chains — without at least first understanding the origins and reasons for those “chains.” And also without first asking themselves: are there some aspects of these other life-styles from which we, with our advanced ideas, might still learn?

Advice such as this, as well as discussion of Chicana culture, reads quite differently depending on the reader’s understanding / belief about the position of the writer. Given the name “Sutherland,” and the author’s lack of identification as a “brown sister” or member of a colonized minority group, the assumption of the reader would be to assume the author’s whiteness. Yet read closely, Sutherland does not deceive outright. The author’s voice is consistently detached from both positions; it is an outsider’s or ethnographer’s gaze, distanced from both Chicana and Anglo women, careful not to identify herself explicitly with either. Yet by her doing so, the absence of clear identity in the overwhelmingly white anthology is read as whiteness.

I have struggled with the question of how to read this essay by Martínez -as- Sutherland. Is she in fact “passing” in order to have her work published in an era hostile to non-Anglo surnames — an idea that Martínez’s writing some thirty years later seems to endorse? Yet, Martínez had been an active radical in New York before moving to New Mexico. She was a former member and leader in SNCC and likely one of the sole (if not the sole) Chicana participant in the organization New York Radical Women. Presumably shewas known by Robin Morgan as Elizabeth Martínez, as well as by her Sutherland pseudonym. Martínez’s publication history on both Chicano/a and Cuban issues, as well as her participation in social movements, would seem to have given her the right to expect to be included in the anthology under her “real” name, had she wished.

So why then did Martínez use her Sutherland pen name for Sisterhood Is Powerful? An answer may be found in Chela Sandoval’s theories of radical oppositional movement politics, her Methodology of the Oppressed. The mechanism which Sandoval proposes is a theory of the differential that would allow (in this case) the Chicana feminist Martínez to become a “shape shifter,” or, more explicitly, to seem to pass as white and thus have her ideas read by an Anglo feminist audience as coming from someone like them rather than from an other. Martínez’s transformation into her Sutherland identity would give her the power to move between the Chicana/o and feminist movements in order to further the radical goals of each, while also bridging the opposition between the two.

The Martínez -as- Sutherland article / introduction on Chicana as colonized, coupled with Vásquez’s “The Mexican-American Woman” article, attempt to make clear the Chicana struggle for feminism as part of, rather than in addition or opposition to, either the larger Chicano movement or the larger feminist one. This combining of feminism with the Chicano struggle, perhaps, accounts for the concern regarding the article’s acceptance by the anthology’s Anglo readers, which Elizabeth Sutherland’s introduction attempts to mediate. Chela Sandoval, expanding on what she terms the “academic apartheid,” which — she writes — “insists on differences” between fields of ethnic studies and Euro American white feminism, “in spite of the profoundly similar theoretical and methodological foundations that underlie such seemingly separate domains” is commenting on a similar issue. This segregation of Anglo feminism from racial and ethnic movements (such as the Chicano movement) put these movements into opposition with the even-then emerging theoretical work of U.S. third world feminism — a theory which would refuse to be split between, but would rather try to bridge, the clear similarities between them.

Viewed through the lens of Sandoval’s theory of differential movement, Martínez’s use of her Sutherland persona is neither a simple attempt to “pass” as Anglo in order to see her work read and published — as she writes her earlier publications were; nor, obviously, was it a rejection of her Chicana self in favor of an alternate white avatar. Instead, Martínez used her Sutherland identity because it was an effective means of including in Sisterhood multiple Chicana voices and ensuring those voices had the best chance of being received the way she wanted them to be. Martínez used her Sutherland identity, something she had created for another purpose, as a means around a different oppression because she believed she could be more effectively heard by doing so.
Martínez’s use of her Sutherland’ identity also has a playful, trickster element to it. While she writes under her Sutherland pseudonym for Sisterhood, Martínez does not attempt to hide her “real” identity completely. Instead, clues to Sutherland’s real identity are there: her demonstrated familiarity with Chicana texts and the position of Chicana women alone should make the reader suspect. A careful reader would also note that throughout her writing, despite her Anglo name, Sutherland never adopts the position of either Anglo or Chicana. Instead, Martínez-as-Sutherland speaks to and about each in turn, as though she exists outside of both, perhaps employing journalistic detachment. Addressing the “middle class Anglo woman” she imagines the reader to be, Martínez-as-Sutherland writes

…[a]nd also without first asking themselves: are there perhaps some aspects of these other life-styles from which we with our advanced ideas might still learn…. Enriqueta Vasquez is a revolutionary, with her own tone of voice. Let Anglo women listen for her voice, not merely for echoes of their own.

Like earlier text, while this passage might at first seem to be speaking to “Anglo women,” as though she were one of them, a careful and more informed reading shows that the “we” is being given to the inner voice of Anglo women themselves, without the author ever explicitly stating her own membership. She distances herself from that collective “we” by ending the passage with “their own,” to point out her separation. Sutherland then addresses colonized women also as though from the outside (though at the same time offering a great deal of detail about Chicano culture), writing

[a]t the same time, we can hope that women from colonized groups will listen with open minds to their Anglo sisters’ ideas about women’s liberation and then take another look at their own values.

More unsettling, there is some question, as Martínez’s own later writing points out, as to whether what Martínez -as- Sutherland attributed in this 1970 essay to “Anglo-style” ideas were actually any ideas held by Anglo feminists at the time. There is no citation to indicate which feminism this comes from, though one might attribute it to the influence socialism. By contrast, Sandoval argues that this theory of interconnected oppression, with no oppression being paramount over another, is instead an outgrowth of the theories of United States third world feminism. Sandoval’s theory is supported by Martínez’s 1990s revised version of this essay, where the last sentence of the previous quotation has been changed in a small but significant way, becoming

[t]here is also much to be gained by considering the idea that male authoritarianism does not oppress women only, but also the masses — many being people of color. In other words, feminism must be anti-racist (since vast numbers of women support racism) and anti-racism must be feminist (since half of those suffering racism are women).

This revision would seem to put Martínez’s thesis in line with Sandoval’s, arguing that this theory was not an “Anglo style” feminist belief, but rather one which was an outgrowth of the work of U.S. feminists of color.

Yet, despite Martínez’s introduction, which makes it appear that the text is unchanged from its earlier publication, the original text was significantly revised between the original 1970 and late 1990s versions. These changes reflect perhaps both the author’s own evolution and, of course, the different role the essay has to play within each text. Her 1990s revision is not about the work of authors other than herself. There is, in fact, no mention of Enriqueta Vasquez or, for that matter, Robin Morgan or Sisterhood. Rather, the essay is about Chicanas in general and exists to introduce what may be viewed as the essay’s own second half, transitioning with the following final paragraph

Plagued by Western habits of either-or dualistic thinking, we may all fail to understand that race, class and gender interconnect to sustain a corporate ruling class. In the language of African-American essayist bell hooks, they are interlocking systems of oppression. Neither Latina nor Anglo women should yield to the temptation of making a hierarchy of oppressions where battles are fought over whether racism is “worse” than sexism, or class oppression is “deeper” than racism, etc. Instead of hierarchies we need bridges, which, after all, exist to make two ends meet.

This transition between her original and more recent texts also makes clear Martínez’s own theoretical evolution. Her essay reflects the theoretical and political development of both the Chicano/a and feminist movements of the 1980s and 1990s, both in its referencing the 1980s writing of African American author bell hooks, and in making use of the “bridge” metaphor, which gestures toward the ground-breaking 1980s text edited by Gloria Anzáldua and Cherríe Moraga.

When speaking critically about Martínez’s work, I must make it very clear that I do not find anything negative about either her literary “passing” under her Elizabeth Sutherland pseudonym (if indeed “passing” is the right way to describe it), or of the idea of a writer / activist such as Martínez re-working her original works so that they more clearly reflect the evolution of her thinking. Further, with this essay specifically, Martínez has used her writing to function as a facilitator / editor, first using both her connections to east coast feminism, the civil rights movement and her Sutherland pseudonym to present and better frame Vásquez’s essay. This creates a collaboration between the El Grito collective within Sisterhood rather than a single Mexican American Woman. Specific to Chicana feminism, the emergence of a theory based on evolution and rebuilding is much in keeping with the coalescence movement and disciplines which have been central to the development of Chicana studies as a unique discipline.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *